Aila Accad, RN, MSN, is an author and stress expert. She has published many books and articles on stress management; her latest, 34 Instant Stress-Busters, was an Amazon best seller. NDG sat down with Aila to discuss stress management and helpful tips for nurses and nursing students.
You started your career as an RN, how did you transition into becoming a “stress expert?”
When I was in my BSN program at Villanova University, an instructor said, “85 percent of all disease and illness is due to stress.” The minute she said that, a light bulb went on in my mind and I thought, if that’s true then why aren’t we helping people get rid of their stress, so they don’t have to get sick? From that moment forward, I was interested in the mind‑body connection and how stress affects our health.
My first role was as a head nurse of a research center for autistic children where I saw the value of substituting traditional medication for nutritional supplements such as vitamin C. From there I ended up in public health. As a public health nurse, I learned more about addiction because I was visiting homes where people had drinking and drug problems. I learned more about that, and then I ended up being hired at a conference where I was learning more about this, where people were changing their life 180 degrees.
How does stress management counseling differ from traditional nursing?
I think what you need to understand is this is nursing. It’s not that I left the field of nursing or that I was in the field of nursing and moved to something else. This is nursing. Nursing is about health promotion and wellness. It’s about helping people get and stay well, and just because the image of nursing has been hospital‑based, 97 percent of the people who need nursing are not in a hospital or institution.
The healthcare system has to change because the structure of the system is disease‑oriented. It’s not health‑oriented. What we’re finding is we’re spending more and more money, and we’re not getting well. What we have is an increase in chronic disease because that’s what people get paid to treat.
Why is nursing known to be such a high-stress job?
In a hospital institution, it’s because we’re not doing what we’re trained to do. More and more nurses have to do things that are not nursing. How often do they get to be at the bedside talking to people, assessing patients where more and more of the time they spend as at a computer terminal or in nurses station doing notes and documentation has become cumbersome. So that causes stress.
I wrote an article on burnout – you don’t burn out just from working hard. You burn out from working out of alignment with your values. If you’re not working in alignment with your values and what’s important to you, you go home and you feel like you didn’t do what you really knew you could or should do. Then you’re not feeling good about yourself.
Do you find that nursing students are at a high level of stress?
Oh, yes. Nursing is a very demanding profession. Right from the start, when you’re in school, you have to be sharp and it’s a lot of work.
And you’re influencing people’s lives! So that stress right there, you’re worried that you’re not going to do it right. What if you harm someone? In the beginning, you’re always worried about doing it right. Nurses do take their job very seriously.
How can nursing students better manage their stress?
I would like to make two points to students which seem to have the most impact when I talk with them. One is the model that I developed called, “Breaking the Perfection Myth.” One of the beliefs we hold is that we need to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect and yet, we strive and strive to achieve an ideal image that you have in your mind of how you should be. We learn this when we’re very little. We learn that there’s a right way to be and you’re not it. It’s impossible, so you’re always failing. This is the number one stress we all have is that is if you buy into this belief that you need to be a certain way and you’re not it, you’re always failing. It feels terrible.
Nurses are high strivers – so what do we do? We end up having a higher rate of addiction. We end up being heavier. A lot of health care professionals are smokers, surprisingly enough. Why? Because this is the only thing we do to reduce our stress.
If you can, number one, correct that false thought. A part of what I do is teach them how to do that, how to change that thinking, and realize that you’re absolutely terrific the way you are and you can always grow and learn more. It’s an involving process. It’s not a driving force to become something you’re not, and that’s number one.
There’s also a technique that I teach them. It’s called the Emotional Freedom technique. It’s an acupressure tapping technique and it works instantly to bring your stress down. My book has 34 instant ways to bring your stress down and this one is Tip 21. It is my absolute favorite, because you can do it without thinking. You just tap on the points and the more you practice it, the more it’s proven to bring your cortisol level down instantly. I have a video on YouTube that shows you how to do it.
Young people especially can get through this stuff fast, because they haven’t repeated the pattern for 50 years. The longer you repeat the pattern, which most of us don’t change it until we’re in our midlife, the harder it is to undo it, but early in your career or your life, yes, get help. Get somebody who knows what they’re doing to help you change some of the thought processes that cause the most stress.
What advice would you give to somebody considering a career in nursing?
I would say definitely get your Bachelor’s degree. If you can move on to the Master’s and think in terms of independent practice and working with people in the community in their homes in innovative practices because it’s going to continue to change.
This will allow nurses the ability to spend the time to help people change their lifestyle and understand what they’re doing, their choices, are affecting their health. This is nursing. We understand community systems, physical systems, educational systems and trying to understand how all of these things interact. That’s why we’re able to help people get more health out of the healthcare dollar, and a good education will facilitate that process.
Is there a group you counsel in stress management most often?
Usually, I speak with associations and organizations that I may do in service training for, say, bankers as well as healthcare professionals. I speak frequently at nursing conferences. In fact, I just spoke at Cardiology Nursing Conference, for cardiac nurses. That was interesting because nearly all of the speakers were of the medical model. It’s all about the medical side of cardiac care and I talked to them about the stress and how stress affects cardiac care. In fact, most people who have cardiac issues also have relationship issues. Dr. Dean Ornish discovered this.
We’ve become more and more medically oriented instead of oriented toward the person and how the other aspects, the emotional and the relational aspects of a person affect their health.
Can you speak about how stress management relates to weight loss?
Yes, and I have a weight management program. It’s called “Weight No More for Permanent Weight Release.” I lost 100 pounds three times before I finally got to understand all the other dynamics. Any diet program will work for you for awhile. But this is not a diet or exercise program. It tackles all the other reasons you gain the weight back. Stress, and also, our conditioned response to foods.
Do you have any plans in the future to write any more books?
I have a new book coming out in June called, “The Call of the Soul, A Path to Knowing Your True Self and Your Life’s Purpose.” It’s all about getting back in touch with who you really are and how to follow the calling you have to your highest purpose. Florence Nightingale even said “nursing is a calling, called to it one way or another.
Any closing thoughts?
There was another quote I wanted to give you by Florence Nightingale. She said, “My view, you know, is that the ultimate destination is the nursing of the sick in their own homes. I look to the abolition of all hospitals and workhouse infirmaries, but it is no use to talk about the year 2000.” That was a quote from her in 1867. She already saw the movement to working with people in the community in their homes. And we are moving toward that, absolutely. You’re finding people are staying in the hospital less. This is what we need to go back to. Nurses doing nursing literally helps people get and stay well.